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On a wing and a prayer

October 18, 2016

 

29th Sunday of the year                     15/16 October 2016

Exodus 17:8-13               2 Timothy 3:14-4:2              Luke 18:1-8

 I’m not complaining, but I’m having a busy weekend. You know how it is, things just all seem to happen at once. Last night, before the Mass of Induction for Fr Paul, I was telling our small band of servers how I had just travelled back from a meeting in Yorkshire, that I needed to prepare a homily for a baptism on Saturday afternoon, was due to attend a business meeting on Saturday morning, and on top of that had to prepare for preaching at all masses.

 One of the servers said, “Just wing it, you’ll be all right.” It’s certainly tempting.

And then during Fr Paul’s induction, he made a public oath of fidelity with his hand on the book of gospels, which included the phrase, “In fulfilling the charge entrusted to me in the name of the Church, I shall hold fast to the deposit of the faith in its entirety; I shall faithfully hand it on and explain it, and I shall avoid any teaching contrary to it.”

It was a powerful and immediate reminder to me: Preaching to the faithful is a privilege and a serious responsibility, given with the authority of the Church through Archbishop Bernard giving his clergy permission to preach. We clergy are ‘under authority’, and we have to make sure you don’t lead people astray in out teaching. So, I have prepared. Actually, it wasn’t as rushed a job as that. I’d looked up the reading a fortnight ago, and have pondered on them, consciously and unconsciously for several days. In preparing to preach I want God to ‘move in me’, so to speak, perhaps even without me realizing it. Because preparing to teach the Word is more than sitting down and writing out a script. It’s about prayer, and it’s about opening up to the Holy Spirit to inspire God’s message to come through to His people. A usual sign for me that I am on the right track is when I’m myself surprised by what I’m saying, and I think, ‘Where did that come from?’

 As committed Christians, prayer should be part of our daily lives; indeed, we regularly come together like today to deliberately to pray not just as individuals but also as one, as a Christian community and also to pray for each other. That’s why last night, Fr Dominic, our Dean, asked all of us if we would pledge to do our part in the Parish by carefully listen to the scripture readings and listening to the homilies. Can you remember what we all said? “With God’s help, we will.” And we were also asked if we would “join in prayer with our parish priest as opportunity allows”. And again we replied, “With God’s help, we will.”

With God’s help. Not on our own, through our own will. No, by God’s will. No matter how hard we work, prepare and practice, ultimately, we rely on God. Of course, we have to do our bit, by using our brains, working things out, putting our plans into action…. but at the centre of it, as faithful Christians, we know that everything comes from God. And, through prayer, we can ask for His help.

Yesterday, we also heard Fr. Paul’s letter of appointment from Archbishop Bernard, giving his advice on how to be a good parish priest. It so happens that today’s second reading is something similar – it is Saint Paul writing as a bishop to Timothy, the newly appointed Priest in Ephesus, guiding and encouraging Timothy’s in the task of being a good Christian leader. The message from St Paul to St Timothy was the same as the message from Archbishop Bernard to Fr Paul – lead people to their salvation by teaching them the wisdom inspired by God in the holy scriptures.

So what can we learn from the readings today that will, as St Paul says, guide our lives and teach us to be holy?

The theme today is prayer. As a child I used to be amused by that story about the very old Moses standing on the hilltop watching a battle between the dread Amalekites and the Army of Israel led by Joshua. I thought it was comical the way Moses would wave his staff and lift his arms, and the Israelites would start winning; then, as he got tired, his arms would slowly come down, and the baddies would start getting the upper hand. And then two other men, Aaron and Hur, would help him hold his arms up again, and then the army led by Joshua would start winning again. This all sounded a bit too much like magic to me. But it is not. The Jewish people would immediate recognises what was going on. Because in those days, when praying, you stood with your arms stretched out to God in heaven. We still see this today. Christians cry out, “Praise the Lord” and raise their arms. If you’re slightly more reserved in your worship, you can still see it, every time you come to mass. Watch Father Paul during the Mass today. At certain key points he raises his arms in prayer. It’s an echo of our Jewish roots. He says ‘The Lord be with you’ with his arms raised. (You may have noticed that I don’t, I keep my hands held together. Do you know why? The priest is our leader, like Moses, arms outstretched. I have a different ministry, of service. Hand held together are a reminder to us of the way Christians would pray when their hands were tied before they were martyred.)

We know from the history of Israel that the battle we heard described today was an unprovoked raid mounted on the Israelite camp by the Amalekites. They attacked the Israelites from the rear, attacking the defenceless people – killing the old, the weak, the women and the children, with the intention of stealing their belongings. It is then that Moses appoints Joshua as the general to lead his army to defend Israel – the first time, incidentally, that the country had fought to defend itself since being enslaved in Egypt. It’s the first time Joshua is mentioned in the history of Israel, and he was the man who was to go on and lead the people after Moses dies. Joshua was the man who led the nation into the Promised Land.

Joshua – that Hebrew names comes out in English as the same as “Jesus”. Early Christians would not have missed the point. We are led by Jesus. And our leaders pray fervently to Jesus to come and save us from evil. And our leaders need all the help they can get in their prayers. Aaron and Hur are raising their arms as well. They can see what is happening, they know what to pray for, and they join in the prayers with Moses, literally helping him. So when Fr Paul ended his induction Mass with a plea for you help in praying for him, he meant it.

Just like Israel relied on Joshua in its hour of need, on its journey through the dangerous wilderness, so we turn to Jesus in prayer for help, and it is He who will lead us from this fallen world to the promised land of heaven.

And this message is reinforced by the gospel story told by Jesus: the story of a corrupt, unjust judge who is repeatedly petitioned by a woman who has been denied justice. The judge eventually gives in to her demands for justice to avoid being worn out by the process. Her persistence pays off. So how much more can we expect to receive justice if we pray to God through our own special advocate, Jesus Christ. But there’s a real danger that we might give up. Jesus makes it clear through His story that He understands that in this world we can face terrible situations, injustice and unpleasantness. Yet we must always remember to ‘Trust in God’. Don’t give up. Have faith. Just like Moses facing a murderous attack on his people; like Saint Paul, falsely accused by his opponents and put on trial in Rome; and like our Lord Himself, shamelessly denied justice by His own people and executed in the cruelest way imaginable. To they end all three persevered and remained faithful to God. We must pray for that same strength to persevere, assured of finally receiving our reward. If not in this world, then definitely in the next.

 

 

 

 

 

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